Camino de Santiago de Compostela: A Spiritual Walk To Find Yourself
Today’s post comes from Inese Grate, LL.M our Senior Case Manager in our office sharing her latest journey.
Aside from building a thriving Law firm or any business, a small-business owner’s most important responsibility is creating an environment that inspires and motivates employees. After all, any company that moves employees to perform at their highest levels will always fare better in the marketplace than its less inspired competitors. Inspiration starts with you, the leader. When you demonstrate enthusiasm and drive on the job, every day, your employees will feed off that energy and share your passion.
I make it a point to share my passion and vision with my team on a daily basis, and I love to see them get inspired, and take action not just at work, but also in their personal life. The following article is guest authored by our Case Manager, Ms. Inese Grate. She took her inspiration to a whole new level.
Camino de Santiago de Compostela (The Way of St. James) is considered to be a spiritual walk where each year, thousands of people from different countries and backgrounds come together to walk many miles.
There are various reasons and motivations why someone would be interested in doing this long trek. It may be wanting some adventure, the need for a spiritual discovery within oneself, religious motives, or just having fun with friends. One thing’s for certain: the Camino walk is an absolutely unforgettable lifetime experience.
Why I Decided Take This Journey
I was interested to do the Camino walk for two reasons: 1) to experience how you respond to the physical and emotional challenge; 2) to be in silence within yourself – it is very interesting to observe how we behave and act when we are with ourselves.
Also, my job can sometimes be hectic – meeting day in and day out with potential clients and listening to their needs, their stories, and their goals and dreams about coming to the United States to live and work.
I enjoy it tremendously. I am fascinated with people, and I love to help, share and give with passion. But long hours on the job and months of work, I realized I needed a break from routine. Not only a break, but an adventure.
I had heard from my friends of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and decided the time was right for such journey.
It was an adventure, yes. But what I got from it was so much more…
Before the Journey
Camino de Santiago de Compostela starts in various locations – France, Portugal, South Spain – and all roads lead to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which is located in the North of Spain. The most popular route starts in Saint Jean de Pied de Port, France. The full length of the walk is about 800 km (500 miles) and typically takes 30 days to complete it.
What I also learned was that two hours away from Santiago, there’s a town called Finisterre, also known as “the end of the earth” – where the world ends…. From looking at pictures, this intrigued me. The sunset looked stunning. I wanted to see and experience this for myself. Could I do it? I was determined to!
A person should carry his or her own backpack with all the necessary personal belongings. The most important items are a sleeping bag, a few articles of clothing, medicine in case you get sick, robust shoes, a rain jacket, hat, and bath accessories. The average weight of the backpack should not exceed more than 10 % of your body weight.
I was packed and ready. But was I mentally, emotionally and physically ready? I was about to find out.
The Journey Begins
You can do the Camino walk at any time of the year. However the busiest and hottest months are in July and August. In my opinion, the best times to do this arduous walk are in May, end of August or September when it’s less busy and much cooler.
I started my journey 6 am, It was early morning when took the first step. The skies were clear and the air was cool and soothing.
I realized, on these paths, there are many scattered villages. Almost every 5 -10 km (3-6 miles) there is a small, unique village. I found fun in interacting with the local villagers. They were simple farmers, children and housewives, all cheerful and welcoming.
I also took time to admire the beautiful scenery; lush green pastures and rustic forested patches. The path meandered through mountains, rivers, plains and hills. It was even more stunning than pictures I had previously seen.
There were many people who started or were continuing their walk when I began that morning. Most of these pilgrims came from Asia, USA, Australia, Africa and Europe.
There are no restrictions and limitations on how much you can or should walk. These pilgrims who accompanied me would walk in rain or heat. Some of them would do only 10 km (6 miles) per day and some would do as much as 45 km per day (25-30 miles). The average usually covered is 20 -30 km per day (13-18 miles).
If you get tired, you can stop at one of the villages and have a rest or even take the bus to the next village. There are no expectations, no competition, and no hustle and bustle like the typical world.
However, the Camino walk definitely requires emotional and physical strength. I began to realize it was important to observe my thoughts and feelings and despite the emotions that came up, to never quit on my goal and on myself.
At the end of the 6th day, I had walked 35 km. The exhaustion had gripped me. My legs were as heavy as if gravity had suddenly doubled its force. As I took off my shoes, it brought streaming bursts of relief to my feet that rippled through my legs and entire body. My feet were sore, and my heels were red and felt like jelly.
But surprisingly, my emotional and mental strength were still there.
The Journey Continues: Life in Albergues – The Pilgrims’ Hostels
The walks every day, although grueling on my feet, were filled with amazing people and places, and the evenings and nights were equally fascinating.
Almost each village has an Albergue (Pilgrim- hostel) where Camino pilgrims can stay the night. The average cost is 5-10 Euros (8-15 dollars) per night.
On evenings, pilgrims would wash their clothes, so it is very important to take clothes that are easy to wash and dry. Almost all Albergues have kitchens that allow pilgrims to cook and prepare food they wish. Some Albergues prepare homemade meals for all guests. This usually unites everyone as they sit down to share a meal. Homemade meals and great conversation – nothing tops this after a long day of walking.
One of the nights, we each prepared and shared a meal of our native country. It was something very simple after a tiring day, but definitely an unforgettable bonding experience.
Another night after dinner, we danced and sang national anthems of each country. I remembered going to bed happy and stress free. Work was far from my mind. I began to experience a calm, happy feeling and knowingness that all is well. Was this a glimpse of inner peace? I think so.
Pilgrims have the option of sleeping in a private room. However, in order to experience the true essence of the walk, it is highly recommended to stay in the Albergues. The sleeping quarters are usually big rooms, hosting sometimes 15 people, or as much as 50 people in a congregation. People tend to snore, talk in their native languages while sleeping, and some even wander around unable to sleep. After 3 or 4 days of this experience, I started to actually enjoy it in an odd way.
An insight and understanding I got was that the Camino way does not have right or wrong choices. It is based on the individual. You adapt, and at the same time, you do things the way that fits and feels comfortable to you. There is no one to judge you. No one to tell you that you are doing things wrong. There is no ego. Just freedom of choice and love and respect for all.
Pilgrims rise at 6 -7 am and start their walk around 8 am. As you hear people getting up and moving around you, as tired as you are, you wake up as well whether you want to or not. ☺
The Journey Ends… And the Real Journey Begins
Almost to the end of the journey I finally made it to Finisterre, aka “the end of the earth”! The sunset was incredible, with the fading light gently casting a resplendent glow on everything in its path. I sat there thinking of the wonderful creations that we so easily forget in our everyday lives.
Throughout the entire walk, you are always surrounded by nature. You see stunning landscapes, such as large mountain ridges across vast horizons. You hear the meditative sounds of gushing rivers, innocent birds chirping and rain drops as they patter softly on the raw earth. In the mornings, your lungs are filled with fresh, clean air, and sometimes there’s the organic scent of animals mixed in there. At times on the walk, you feel the gentle and powerful winds caressing your face, your body and soul.
I met a lot of very nice, positive and interesting people from different backgrounds, ages and lifestyles. I met people from Japan, Canada, Australia, USA, Africa and of course various European countries.
I met people who have been walking for an entire year. Some walk together, some do it alone. I met a family – mother, daughter and a son of 7 years old, who have been walking from Germany for 5 months. It is very impressive what you see and hear during the walks.
They all had different stories for taking this journey. One pilgrim lost his wife, mother and brother recently, and that motivated him. A lady recently lost her child while being pregnant. Another person woke up one day and realized that he had to do it. Others were there just for the fun experience.
The reasons may vary, but the goal is the same. Everyone that does this walk wants some sort of fulfillment in the form of peace and calmness within and to enjoy the wonderful experiences of life.
I would say that the Camino walk is an individual journey where you have an opportunity to be with yourself in silence, to maybe find some answers to your life and figure out what’s important to you. You may experience more awareness of what’s around you. Time seems irrelevant. You have all time and opportunity to observe and appreciate the little things of everyday life that people normally don’t see in a busy day-to-day routine. As mentioned before, I observed the beauty of nature and the people.
But the awareness may also be inward. You see, as I head back to my job and busy life in San Diego, I realize while I take back an amazing experience, I also take back with me an awareness that the physical, emotional and mental strengths have always been there within me. The freedom and calmness I experienced on the walk are always available to me. I can tap into this anytime.
Maybe the Camino’s spiritual walk is a journey that starts outward and leads inward; the deeper we go, the more we realize all we need to live an amazingly fulfilling and meaningful life is already there.